Donald Macleod’s defense of the “offer” is self-defeating. It intends to be a refutation of the false doctrine of hyper-Calvinism. In fact, it promotes hyper-Calvinism as much as, if not more than, any explicit defense of hyper-Calvinism ever launched.
It cannot escape notice that the doctrinal error of hyper-Calvinism must be an epidemic in the circles in which Macleod moves. In recent times, out of these circles there has been a veritable flood of books, articles, and speeches that contend with this evil.
In a way, the response of Macleod and others to the hyper-Calvinism that is rampant among them is something of an encouragement to one who regards the doctrines of sovereign grace as the gospel. So widespread and dominant must Calvinism be in Macleod’s circles that it—Calvinism—has spun off, wrongly, a significant exaggeration of Calvinism—a “hy-per-version.” In the circles in which I move, the Dutch Reformed churches in North America “one must search with the fabled candle to find a Calvinist, much less a hyper-Calvinist. The vast majority are “hypo”-Calvinists, many by virtue of binding ecclesiastical decisions.
Nevertheless, hyper-Calvinism is a serious departure from genuine, orthodox Calvinism. Lest anyone regard this review of Macleod’s book as a failure to take seriously the error of hyper-Calvinism, I permit myself to call attention to the fact that I wrote a book in 1980 exposing and condemning hyper-Calvinism as false doctrine long before it became fashionable in Calvinist circles to trot out hyper-Calvinism as the main threat to the biblical gospel of grace.
In the very briefest and most unsatisfactory of descriptions, Macleod identifies the doctrine as one that refuses to extend the call of the gospel to all who come under the preaching of the gospel. The description is unsatisfactory in that it views what Reformed theology calls the “external call of the gospel” as God’s well-meant offer of salvation to all hearers, with the sincere desire, or gracious will, on the part of God to save all who hear, those who perish as well as those who evidently distinguish themselves by accepting “the offer. In addition, Macleod leaves the distinct impression that he judges all to be hyper-Calvinists who do not issue this offer, with sufficient passion, in all ecclesiastical gatherings, the assembly of the instituted congregation as well as the mission field.
The valid purpose of the book is to expose hyper-Calvinism’s refusal to call all to salvation as an error, and to admonish all Calvinists to issue the call, which Macleod significantly insists on referring to as an “offer,” to all in the audience, specifically, unbelievers. The book brings forward the grounds for this promiscuous call/”offer” in light of the distinctive doctrines of Calvinism. Apart now from Macleod’s understanding of the call as a well-meant offer, his purpose is legitimate and, apparently, in his circles necessary.
But his refutation of hyper-Calvinism consists of a corruption of the Calvinist, biblical gospel of particular, sovereign grace. Macleod’s “offer” to all, supposedly the Calvinist alternative to hyper-Calvinism, is the expression of a sincere desire of God to save all without exception. This “offer” originates in a saving, but inefficacious, love of God in Jesus Christ for all humans, those who accept this love and are saved, “as well as those who perish despite this love of God for them.
Macleod grounds his “offer” to all in God’s love for the world, as supposedly taught in Titus 3:4. Since the love of God in this text is “the love of God our Savior,” the “universalism of the divine call has deep theological roots” in a (would be) saving love of God in Jesus Christ. Lest any mistake the love of God for sinners expressed in Macleod’s “offer” as something other than the saving love of God in Jesus Christ, Macleod identifies this love as that of Matthew 11:28 (Jesus’ “compassion” for lost sinners) and that of Luke 19:41 (Jesus’ weeping over Jerusalem’s children). In preaching the “offer” of his gospel, Macleod assures “everyone who hears…that, precisely because they belong to the world [consisting of every human without exception—DJE], this love is for them. It is incarnate in Christ, and in Him it says, ‘Come’” (p. 38). With appeal to II Peter 3:9, ignoring that the text restricts the saving will of God to the elect (“longsuffering to us-ward”), Macleod declares that “he [God] desires all men to be saved”
“A theology of a universal love of God in Christ for sinners, with “deep theological roots” in God’s eternal will, necessarily implies that the saving effect of this love, with its roots in the very will of God, does not depend upon the love itself, or upon the gracious will of God, but upon the will, or decision, of sinners. This explains why Macleod can recommend the ministry of Billy Graham (pp. 43, 44) and is constrained to insist that God blesses the Arminian “gospel”. Macleod instances the ministry of John Wesley (who blasphemed the gospel of grace and damned Calvinism) as God’s blessing of “the preaching of Arminians” (p. 68).
Compromise of predestination necessarily entails the weakening, and eventually the denial, of the truth of limited, particular, atonement. As one sworn to uphold the Westminster Standards, Macleod struggles to maintain the doctrine in light of his universal will of God for the salvation of sinners. In the end, he fails, as fail must all who teach the well-meant offer of salvation. Every human has a “right” to the atonement of the cross.
“[Christ] was Mediator for the human race…and every human had a right to avail themselves of His services as Prophet, Priest and King.” In the context of Macleod’s argument, his appeal to I John 2:2 as teaching that “He was the expiation and propitiation for the sins of the whole world (I John 2:2), and every man and woman had the right to come to His cross confessing their sins and seeking forgiveness through His blood,” means that Christ died for every man and woman (pp. 63, 64).
Macleod is not only passionate on behalf of this “offer.” He is beside himself. “No doctrine is more important than the free offer” (p. 90). Election, the atoning work of Christ, regeneration by the Holy Ghost, justification by faith alone—all are of secondary importance in comparison with the doctrine of the free offer. And the doctrine of the free offer that Macleod has in mind, let it not be forgotten, is a saving love of God in Christ for all humans without exception, and His will to save all. To deny the free offer of Donald Macleod is “heresy” (p. 90).”
“This charge of “heresy” is significant. Once upon a time, the well-meant offer inveigled its way into the Reformed churches with the plea that it be tolerated alongside the doctrine of salvation by sovereign grace: the efficacious call. Once accepted in the Reformed churches, it now drives out the truth with the charge of “heresy.” Macleod’s offer and the doctrine of the particular, sovereignly gracious, efficacious call of the gospel cannot coexist. On this, Macleod and this reviewer are in agreement.
Carried away with his offer, Macleod goes on to make the exalted claim that “the free offer lies at its [Calvinism’s] very heart” (pp. 90, 91). Macleod’s offer is not merely important. It lies at Calvinism’s very heart. “At the heart”! “The very heart”! God now sends the advocates of the Arminian offer in the Reformed churches a strong delusion.
This perversion of every tenet of genuine, creedal Calvinism, from predestination to irresistible grace, is supposed to be the defense of Calvinism’s promiscuous call of the gospel against hyper-Calvinism. On the altar of his precious
“cious “offer,” Macleod sacrifices Calvinism. One can imagine the response to this defense of the promiscuous preaching of the gospel, including the serious call to all and sundry, by hyper-Calvinists: “If this is the Calvinist basis of the promiscuous call, we want no part of Calvinism.” Thus, the book is self-defeating. By its heretical explanation of the promiscuous call as a well-meant offer, it confirms the hyper-Calvinist in his error.
Truth to tell, the error of Macleod is worse than that of hyper-Calvinism. Hyper-Calvinism still has a gospel to preach. It refuses to preach it to all to whom God wills it to come. But it preaches the gospel of (sovereign) grace. Macleod and all those worthies who praise his book to the skies, with nary a word in condemnation of his compromise of the gospel of grace (in three and a half pages at the beginning of the book), have let the gospel slip between their “free-offer” fingers. A grace for all humans, a grace that fails, a grace that depends for its efficacy on sinners, is not the grace of the gospel of God in Jesus Christ. It is not the truth about
“call of the gospel taught by Jesus: “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him” (John 6:44).
Genuine, creedal Calvinism cries down a plague on both the house of hyper-Calvinism and the house of Macleod and his allies. It holds Christ crucified and risen in all the riches of his person and work before all the audience. It declares the guilt, and exposure to divine judgment, of every man and woman. It seriously calls all humans to whom God sends the church and her ministers to repent and believe. It issues this call with passion. It proclaims to all the particular promise that everyone who believes shall be saved (which is radically different from issuing a conditional promise to all: the proclamation comes to all; the promise is for those who repent and believe). To everyone in the audience, quite regardless whether he is regenerated or unregenerated, it issues the call, as from God himself, with passion, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.” The call is attended by the promise, “Everyone who believes shall be saved.” Genuine Calvinism then calls everyone who does believe into the fellowship
“of a true church. This is the plague (and a plague it is) on the house of hyper-Calvinism.
The plague on the house of Macleod and all who defend his “free offer” is that the same Calvinism that urgently calls all to believe proclaims that God wills to save some only; that Christ died for these predestinated, and for them only; and that the loving, gracious call of the gospel, rooted in election, is irresistible, so that it efficaciously brings to faith and repentance every sinner whom God calls in love for that sinner and with a sincere desire to save that sinner. This is the gospel of Calvinism. This is the gospel that is preached on the mission field, as well as to the instituted congregation (cf. the evangelism of Jesus in John 6).
Probably, an aspect of the plague on the house of Donald Macleod that is worth noting is that it is not necessary that the unconverted sinner be assured of the love of God for him prior to his believing. Indeed, this is not possible. What the unconverted sinner must know is his great need as a guilty sinner; Jesus as the Savior from this guilt; faith in Jesus as the only way of salvation;
“the divine summons to repent and believe; and the certainty that everyone who comes to Jesus by faith will be received and forgiven. One does not know the love of God for him personally before believing, but only by believing. Faith in Jesus Christ is the assurance of salvation in the love of God. One does not believe because he knows that God loves him; one knows that God loves him by believing. This is necessary to note because it is the thinking of Macleod that the evangelist must begin by assuring his unbelieving audience of the love of God for them.
The passionate, urgent, external call of the gospel does not conflict with genuine Calvinism. It does not defend itself by compromising Calvinism. Rather, the external call realizes God’s purpose of election and the redemption of the cross. God works through the external call to all to accomplish the salvation of the elect. And He also accomplishes His purpose to harden the others, the reprobate (a word I do not recall coming across in Compel Them to Come in more than once, and that only in passing, and the truth of which has no place whatever in Macleod’s theology of the offer). “Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth” (Romans 9:18). This text is the death-knell upon Macleod’s theology of the offer.”
“Compel Them to Come In: Calvinism and the Free Offer of the Gospel, by Donald Macleod. Fearn, Ross-shire, Scotland: Christian Focus, 2020. Pp. 155. $15.99 (hardcover). ISBN-13: 978–1527105249. [Reviewed by David J. Engelsma]
Excerpt From: “Protestant Reformed Theological Journal”. Apple Books.